I may have HPV, what can I do?

Apr 10, 2017 0 Comments in Male health by

One of the most common sexually transmitted diseases (STD) is the so-called “human papilloma virus” or HPV. It may come as a surprise that this is a rather common infection and that it affects over 80% of sexually active people. Nonetheless, since it is a STD it causes considerable anguish because of the health risks as well as the social implications. Health professionals must provide tranquillity and rigorous information to patients who enquire about this pathology; since there is plenty of misleading information that contributes to increasing the distress and leads to a stormy diagnosis process. HPV can be diagnosed and treated in need be, but one should seek expert advice if he or she suspects having contracted the virus.

The vast amount of information –or else “misinformation”, in the Internet about HPV usually leads to self-diagnoses, self-treatments and bad practices that can actually put our health at risk. This post aims to discuss HPV extensively and clear up any doubts you may have.

What is HPV?

HPV is a group of viruses belonging to the family of Papilomaviridae, which includes more than 100 different strains. Dr Rosselló Gayá explains that though most of these strains are harmless, “around 40 of them are sexually transmitted and can affect the male and female genital system”. Among them, the high risk group is made up of 15 types.

What are the symptoms?

The majority of the 100 strains do not cause any symptom for most people, moreover, these asymptomatic strains do not represent a health threat . Since the symptoms of HPV are usually imperceptible, many people that have contracted the virus don’t even know they have it. As a matter of fact, a person might be affected by different strains throughout their life, which become eradicated by their immune system without showing any manifestations.

Furthermore, it is possible that symptoms appear several years after having had a high risk sexual intercourse with someone affected by the virus. This is why it is so difficult to determine the precise moment when the patient became infected for the first time.

However, some HPV strains result in genital warts or condylomata, which look like little lumps or like a small group of lumps in the genital area. Such warts may be flat or bulging, although sometimes they look like a tiny cauliflower in terms of texture. There are other more aggressive strains, which have been linked to causing cancer. Nonetheless, the strains that result in genital warts are typically not the same that cause cancer.

What health problems can the HPV cause?

The most aggressive strains may cause serious health problems, especially if the HPV is not duly treated by a specialist. According to Dr Mariano Rosselló Gayá, expert in sexual medicine:

“The high risk strains can cause serious injuries and Koilocyte changes (abnormalities in cells) linked to cervical cancer and, less often, to cancer of vulva, vagina and anus in women, and cancer of anus and/or penis in men“.

Besides, some isolated cases show possibility link with the development of oropharyngeal cancer (which includes the soft area in the throat, the base of the tongue and the tonsils), according to data provided by the division of Sexually Transmitted Disease Prevention at the U.S. Centre for Disease and Prevention.

These are the HPV strains that cause cancer:

  • Cervical cancer: strains number 16 and 18 cause up to 70% of cervical cancer cases.
    • Anus cancer: strain 16 causes 95% of this cáncer.
    • Oropharyngeal cancer: strain 16 is responsible for 70% of oropharyngeal cancer cases.
    • Other types of cancer: strain 16 also causes cancer of vagina, vulva and penis.

How is it transmitted or how do you get it?

HPV is transmitted during sexual intercourse (both vaginal and anal) with a person who has the virus, not just though fluid transmission but also through skin-on-skin contact. Even though the virus is transmitted by direct contact, the risk of infection is even higher if the condom is not used. However, Dr Rosselló Gayá explains that “all HPV strains are transmitted by skin-to-skin contact; therefore, condom use is not a highly efficient barrier to prevent contagion.”

Any sexually active person may develop this STD even if they have a long-term relationship with someone affected by the virus. We should bear in mind that, around 80% of the sexually active population may be a carrier of the virus, which indicates that this is a rather common pathology.

How can it be prevented and treated?

Since many HPV are asymptomatic, the best way to monitor yoru sexual health is to book general medical check-ups on a regular basis, and men should book an immediate appointment if they suddenly see genital warts appearing in their genital area. Women should visit their gynaecologist, at least once a year, because the warts or HPV injuries are not visible and can only be detected with a cytological test. Yearly check-ups will allow the doctor to monitor any possible change in the uterine cervix. Moreover, this test should be a must even when women have a steady relationship so as to rule out any possible infection.

For men, there is a medical treatment based on low pH ointments and creams when warts and condilomata appear. If the treatment fails, the medical expert may recommend a surgical removal of the warts with cryogenisation, laser, or electrocoagulation. The surgery is needleless and performed under local anaesthesia, which means less inconveniences for the patient.

Please note, this is general information; you should book a doctor’s appointment and see which is the best treatment for you.

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